February 24, 2005
Our City, We Have No Other
By Elhanan Reiner
Tel Aviv - Let there be no doubt: I am writing not only out of concern only
for the other venerable communities that live and breathe in Jerusalem. I am concerned for
all of Jerusalem, for everyone who lives here, for everything that this city represents.
Jerusalem has lost much of its universal status, and it will continue to lose status if the Israeli
government doesn't stop for a moment and rethink its course.
The government's attempt to use the laws regarding Absentee Property in order to appropriate
the property of Palestinians from east Jerusalem is scandalous, and was stopped only by
Attorney General Manny Mazuz's intervention. Yet this decision was merely one more step in
the overall process that has been going on for years, together with the aggressive policy of
This process is nothing less than an attempt to sever east Jerusalem from its natural environs
and to disconnect its residents from their cultural, emotional, social, economic and national
The building of the separation wall is another despicable example of this attempt. The coarse,
harsh lines cut into historic, organic and cohesive Palestinian societies, severing them from
the centres of their lives. In the near future, it will prevent
Jerusalem's Palestinian residents from reaching Ramallah or Bethlehem.
Until now, officials have used the ostensible guise of security to abdicate
any responsibility for dealing with the local reality, history or people's needs and
sensibilities. The only thing different about the decision to take over property in east Jerusalem is that
they didn't even try to use the security camouflage.
And thus, the once quasi-legitimate Israeli sovereignty has become a violent
occupation that no longer knows its own limitations.
Severing the Palestinian population from its natural surroundings severs them from their
communal, social, and familial ties and violates their basic rights. But there are additional
aspects to these manoeuvres that should worry us all: these moves will critically damage the
multi-cultural character of Jerusalem. Jerusalem's rich, unique, and fragile
texture is made up of uncountable Jewish, Christian, and Moslem sub-cultures, which weave together the specia? character, culture and calendar that are so precious.
Jerusalem's multiculturalism is one of her most important assets.
The Christian narrative rests on the two axes of the Nativity and the Crucifixion.
Disconnecting the Christian Jerusalemites from el-Azaria, (which is the historical Bitania),
from Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and the rest of the components of that narrative breaks into
smithereens not just the identity of the Christian community in Jerusalem but also the identity
of the community in the entire land of Israel.
This narrative is not a matter of consciousness or myth. It does not belong
to the historians, to the researchers of religion, to the writers or to the folklorists. It belongs to the thousands of
deeply religious pilgrims from all of the Christian denominations who come from their
communities throughout the world to the Easter celebrations and other religious annual
ceremonies in Jerusalem.
Here, they meet the thousands of Jewish pilgrims, Israelis and Jews from the
Diaspora, who walk along those same paths and fill the courtyards of Jerusalem during Passover, like the
many thousands of others - Jews, Moslems and Christians - who come during the year to
experience the central narratives of their culture. For them all, the communities living in this
city are their adornments, the framework that supports their bodies and souls.
The masses of Moslems who stream through the Old City to their prayers during the Moslem
holidays and especially on the Fridays of Ramadan do not come here to provoke anyone.
They come to pray, just like the masses of Jews who stream to the Western Wall for the
Neilah prayer on Yom Kippur or the masses of Christians who stream to the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre on Easter Sunday. The artificial arrangements for access to these holy places
may please the politicians, but they cannot save our city from the loss of its religious,
cultural, and historic identity.
I have spent most of my life here in Jerusalem, and the crude lines that cross Jerusalem now,
and those that will be crossing other neighbourhoods in this city in the future, remind me of
what Jerusalem was like when I was born. For nearly twenty years, as you walked through
the streets of Jerusalem, your way was blocked by walls of concrete that blocked the city's
natural and historical progress. Those walls affected the Jewish community that had lived
here more than they affected any other group, smashing our narrative and cutting us off from
the very symbols of our existence.
When those walls of concrete were removed, we were so excited, filled with almost
Messianic expectations. But now, our hopes are being dashed in front of our
eyes. Nothing resembles those walls more than the wall that is now crossing across the city, even if today it
cuts a different line and prevents other people from passing through.
The Israeli government's policy of separation, isolation and expropriation seeps into
Jerusalem's daily life, leaving its ugly scar across her body.
Maintaining the universal character of Jer?salem depends upon maintaining her multi-cultural
texture. This cannot be an afterthought; it must be planned for. It demands
that we bow our heads in respect before the cultures that live here. It is part of the Jewish tradition of the
Jewish communities that have lived in Jerusalem throughout the
And no less so, it is part of our Israeli tradition, since, in the more recent past, we knew
how to rightfully demand recognition of our own rights, based on our city's unique character and our own
relationship with it.
Now, we must recognize others' rights, too.
Protecting Jerusalem's universal character must be supremely important to all ? to Jewish
residents as well as to all the other national collectives that live here and in our environs.
Jerusalem is a symbol of national, historical, religious, and cultural experience, and no one
should have to struggle to maintain his or her identity in our city.
This is our city, we have no other.
*Elhanan Reiner is senior lecturer at the Department of Jewish history at Tel Aviv